City considering state lease to create all-hazard training center

Great Falls Fire Rescue has been working since last summer on an effort to create a regional all-hazards training center at its existing facility at 1900 9th St. S.

Last summer, Chief Jeremy Jones testified at a legislative committee in the hopes of getting state funding toward the project.

In the fall, Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, a Republican out of Billings, agreed to carry the bill, Jones said, but a bill hadn’t been drafted as the session started.

GFFR chief working to develop all-hazards training facility

GFFR staff have been gathering letters of support from agencies across Montana in fire, medical, law enforcement and private industry who have an interest in using such a facility.

Earlier this year, Jones, other GFFR staff and other agencies met with the state budget director about the project.

Jones said that GFFR has done the majority of the legwork and been pushing the project forward but have since created a steering committee with representatives from other agencies and private industry who could use the facility.

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They’ve been looking at the operational costs, management and sustainment plan for the facility.

“Everyone understands it’s a need,” Jones said. “Everyone is shocked there’s nothing in the state, or region that we’ve been able to find at the level we need.”

The plan has morphed a few times, but the current idea is for the state to lease the facility from the city for $1 annually for 25 years and the state would invest $25 million into developing the Montana Public Safety Development Center.

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The center would offer year-round training opportunities and will be the first and only multidiscipline, tactical and classroom development facility in Montana.

During their Feb. 7 meeting, City Commissioners will consider approving a letter of intent to the state regarding the project.

Jones said the plan would be to develop the facility with specialty props to help responders train for a wider range of hazards, and potentially a live-round shoot house for law enforcement and a proper burn building for fire agencies.

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The Montana Law Enforcement Academy, which is a requirement for law enforcement officer, can only train so many people annually so the state is looking at creating a two-year associates program that would meet that training requirement.

Jones said Great Falls College MSU and the University of Providence have been contacted about that concept and that the training facility could serve them too.

Jones said the agencies need the props and availability, but if the current plan is approved, GFFR will probably have training chiefs stationed at the facility to cover daily operations under the guidance from the management group.

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He said the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office would also likely station a deputy at the center.

So if agencies are scheduled to train at the center, staff can give the use fee and staff accordingly, Jones said.

With a membership-based cost sharing structure, Jones said they should be able to generate enough revenue to maintain the facility long-term.

The proposed city public safety levy does not address the infrastructure needs at the training center.

“Ultimately, it would be the first of its kind in our state and really in the region,” Jones said. “The potential is amazing.”